US Harm Reduction Coalition calls for change

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Nelson Mandela, showing his support for people living with HIV / AIDS

Allan Clear of the Harm Reduction Coalition made an urgent appeal on the Obama White House to intervene in the current negotiations about the Political Declaration on the 1998 UNGASS review that has to be adopted in March 2009 at the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). For more than two million people living with HIV, mainly in Africa, hopes are high for a change in Obama's foreign policy.

The current US delegation is stalling the introduction of the words harm reduction and related language in the documents.

The political declaration will set the framework for the next decade – and, by implication, the course for the global response to the HIV epidemic as it affects drug users. "It is imperative that the new Obama administration act quickly to ensure that the US delegation to this upcoming UNGASS review reflect Obama's publicly stated position that he 'supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of [HIV] infection among drug users'," Clear writes. "Otherwise, our new president will miss a vital early opportunity to lead us back into an era of evidence-based policy."

On January 1, a letter co-signed by the Harm Reduction Coalition, Physicians for Human Rights and more than 60 public health and human rights organizations, asked the Obama administration to immediately appoint a more progressive US delegation to the UNGASS review process – one that reflects the president's stance on syringe exchange and puts civil society at the table where it belongs.

For more than two million people living with HIV, mainly in Africa, hopes are high that the change promised by incoming US President Barack Obama will extend to his foreign policy. Current US policies prohibit funding for organisations that target sex workers with HIV prevention, or for needle exchange programmes to prevent the spread of HIV among injecting drug users.